Running up Vesuvius

I recently went on holiday to Italy, and while making sure I focused on performing well in terms of spaghetti eating and chianti drinking , I did fancy getting a bit of mountain running in.

We were staying on the Amalfi coast and planned a trip to Vesuvius and Herculaneum to follow in the footsteps of the enormously destructive volcanic eruption of AD79. I thought straight away that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of running up an active volcano!

On attempting to research running up the mountain, information was pretty sparse. I couldn’t find any information about races or good routes, let alone anybody’s romantic reflections or experiences of running up this summit. I found a rumour that in the early 2000s, some suitably mad british servicemen had organised a 10k and 5k race up to the summit, but the trail seems to have gone cold in recent years.Nothing else to do then except turn up and give it a go! In the immortal words of Duncan Steen, if you’re at the bottom and you keep going, then you’ll get to the top. No problem…

Well, not according to the shuttle bus organiser at the base of Vesuvius. He said it’s 30 or 40km and will take you 5 or 6 hours! ! Possibly he was just after a fare  but as I could pretty much see the summit from where we stood I wasn’t convinced by his stats. So off I went. Despite it being about 20c I decided to head out in my Mountain Equipment Men’s Firefox Jacket – , assuming that the weather would turn further up.

The volcano itself is actually in a national park and after about half an hour or so from leaving Ercolano station I reached the gates leading to the summit. So far the run and scenery had been pretty uneventful.

In true Italian fashion the road to the summit was a series of pretty, elongated switchbacks rising at a steady 3 or 4%.Unfortunately the gates giving access to the open parkland were closed, possibly because of the time of year, keeping my feet firmly on the tarmac. Probably just as well as I didn’t have either map or compass with me!


View back to Naples at the bottom of Vesuvius National Park


As I steadily rose and the temperature steadily fell, the restaurants and houses lining the road deteriorated too. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is apparently well overdue an eruption meaning home and business owners on the slopes can’t get house insurance; properties are therefore effectively worth nothing. Many are still lived in, and don’t tend to see mad englishmen running relentlessly up the road. A word of warning at this point. If you’re thinking about giving this a go, many of the houses had dogs, only some of which were tethered and secure. I’m sure it was just bravado, but one more than one occasion I was confronted by a snarling dogs who didn’t seem particularly friendly. 

 Snaking up the switchbacks I began to notice a series of numbers painted on the tarmac. I eventually realised that these were a km count down, with a new mark every 100m. Obviously I didn’t find out until later (as in the top!) that the countdown was actually to the summit. Next time I’ll know, and if you end up doing the same climb it’ll be a useful aid to keep you company.

 At about this point, my wife Kim passed me in the minibus she was in, and the hearty wave gave me a bit of added motivation to get up there. By now I was about 3/4 of the way and the temperature was starting to noticeably drop. Up ahead the higher points were disappearing into cloud and the with it the sun.

I have to say that ‘basecamp’ just below the summit of Vesuvius is a pretty uninspiring place. Again, I suspect the imminent threat of eruption discourages people from investing too much up there, but I was expecting a little more than a glorified kebab van and a sweet shop. That said, the Twix and bottle of Powerade provided a welcome recovery boost. In total the run took me about 1hr 26mins, clocking up 7.7 miles. All that was left to do was to walk to the summit with Kim, about another 800m and a fee of 10 Euros, then convince the bus driver that it really hadn’t taken me five hours and so could he give me a lift back please?



View into Vesuvisus’ Crater – worth it?


Sorry, this post has gone on too long already, but finally wanted to say that it was an absolutely fantastic experience running up Vesuvius and I would recommend it to anyone even remotely fond of hill running, a little big of danger, and can run quick enough to get away from the tied up dogs! Herculaneum is well worth a visit too, and seeing it in the context of the mountain makes for a good days sightseeing. Just make sure you take your trainers.

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